The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017 is being discussed in Parliament today. The Bill replaces an Ordinance promulgated on December 30, 2016 to remove the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) liability and central government’s guarantee to honour the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which were demonetised on November 8, 2016 through a notification. These notes were allowed to be deposited in banks by December 30, 2016. In light of this, we explain the provisions of the Bill and possible implications.
What does the Bill say?
Under the RBI Act, 1934, RBI is responsible for issuing currency notes, and is liable to repay the holder of a note upon demand. The Bill provides that, from December 31, 2016, RBI would no longer be liable to repay holders of old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, the value of these notes. Further, the old notes will no longer be guaranteed by the central government.
Can a person keep old notes?
A person will be prohibited from holding, transferring or receiving the old notes from December 31, 2016 onwards. It exempts some people from this prohibition including: (i) a person holding up to 10 old notes (irrespective of denomination), and (ii) a person holding up to 25 notes for the purposes of study, research or numismatics (collection or study of coins or notes).
What happens if a person continues to hold old notes after December 30, 2016?
Any person holding the old notes, except in the circumstances mentioned above, will be punishable with a fine: (i) which may extend to Rs 10,000, or (ii) five times the value of notes possessed, whichever is higher.
Are there any issues with this provision?
There may be two issues.
No window to deposit old notes before imposing penalty: The notification of November 8th allowed old currency notes to be deposited till December 30, 2016 and specified that people unable to deposit them till this date would be given an opportunity later.2 However, the Ordinance which came into force on December 31, 2016 made it an offence to hold old currency notes from that day onwards and imposed a penalty. This overnight change did not provide a window for a person holding the notes on that day to exchange or deposit them. Therefore, not only did the holder lose the monetary value of the notes but he was also deemed to have committed an offence. This implies that a person who had the notes did not have an opportunity to avoid committing an offence and attracting a penalty.
Unclear purpose behind penalty on possessing old notes: The purpose and the objective behind imposing a penalty for the possession of old currency notes is unclear. One may draw a comparison between holding an invalid currency note, and an expired cheque since both these instruments are meant to complete transactions. Currently, a cheque becomes invalid three months after being issued. However, holding multiple expired cheques does not attract a penalty.
Is it still possible to deposit old notes?
The government has specified a grace period under the Bill to allow: (i) Indian residents who were outside India between November 9, 2016 to December 30, 2016 to deposit these notes till March 31, 2017, and (ii) non-residents who were outside India during this period to deposit notes till June 30, 2017. The government may exempt any other class of people by issuing a notification. In addition, RBI has permitted foreign tourists to exchange Rs 5,000 per week. No other person can exchange or deposit old notes after December 30, 2016.
Would this satisfy Constitutional norms?
While the notification issued on November 8 specified that after December 30, 2016, any person unable to exchange or deposit old notes would be allowed to do so at specified RBI offices, the Bill does not provide such a facility except in the circumstances discussed above.
On may question whether this violates Article 300A of the Constitution, which states that no person will be deprived of his property except by law. Though this Bill will be a “law”, one may want to think about whether its provisions meet the standards of due process and are not arbitrary. Given that earlier notifications had indicated that a facility for exchanging or depositing old notes would be provided after December 30, 2016, would the action of not providing such facility under the Bill qualify as an arbitrary action which violates due process?  A few examples will be useful in examining this question.
Case 1: A person unable to deposit notes due to poor health
A person may have been unable to deposit old currency notes owing to various reasons such as poor health, old age or disability till the deadline of December 30, 2016. The Bill does not provide any facility for such persons to deposit old notes, except if they were not in India during the period between November 8 and December 30, 2016.
Case 2: A person without a bank account
A person without a bank account may have held over Rs 4,500 in old currency notes. The notification (and future modifications) allowed a person to exchange up to Rs 4,500 over the counter once till November 24, 2016. Such a person would have to incur a monetary loss if he possessed old notes above this value, given his inability to deposit them in a bank account.
Case 3: Indian citizens living abroad
There may be Indians working or studying abroad holding old currency notes. The government has notified the last date for depositing old notes for these non-resident Indians as June 30, 2017. However, these people may not visit India between November 8, 2016 and June 30, 2017. In such a scenario, these people may have to incur a monetary loss.
Case 4: Foreign nationals entering India before demonetisation
Foreign tourists in the country may have held old currency notes before demonetisation on November 8, 2016. Such tourists can only exchange old currency notes of up to Rs 5,000 per week till January 31, 2017. Given that such foreigners may not have bank accounts in India, they may also suffer a monetary loss for whatever amount could not be exchanged within the period they were in India. For example, a person who had Rs 10,000 and left India on November 13, 2016 would not have been able to get the value of notes they had, over Rs 5,000.
In addition, Indian currency notes are used legally in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bhutan. The Bill allows only Indian citizens to deposit old notes for an extended period under certain conditions. However, it does not make any provisions for foreigners to deposit or exchange old notes held by them. Such foreign nationals who are not Indian residents would not have bank accounts in India.
 The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017,http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Specified%20Bank%20notes/specified%20bank%20notes%20bill%202017-compress.pdf.
 The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Ordinance, 2016,http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Ordinances/Specified%20Bank%20Notes%20%28Cessation%20of%20Liabilities%29%20Ordinance,%202016.pdf.
 Section 2 (ix) of the notification issued on November 8, 2016 (No. S. O. 3407 (E)) states that any person who is unable to exchange or deposit the specified bank notes in their bank accounts on or before the 30th December, 2016, shall be given an opportunity to do so at specified offices of the Reserve Bank or such other facility until a later date as may be specified by it.
 S. O. 4251 (E), Gazette of India, Ministry of Finance, December 30, 2016,http://dea.gov.in/sites/default/files/24Notification%2030.12.2016.pdf.
 Exchange facility to foreign citizens, January 3, 2017, https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10815&Mode=0.
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has decided to conduct an off-cycle meeting today to discuss the failure to meet the inflation target under Section 45ZN of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. As per the Reserve Bank of India Act (RBI), 1934, MPC is required to meet at least four times each year, to discuss the macroeconomic issues in the country, and take policy decisions to address those. This is the second time MPC has conducted an off-cycle meeting in 2022-23. The meeting is scheduled in light of inflation being consistently high for nine consecutive months.
In this blog, we discuss what the inflation targeting framework is, examine retail and wholesale prices, and the divergence between them.
What is the inflation targeting framework, and what happens if inflation is persistently high?
In 2016, Parliament amended the RBI Act, 1934 to change the monetary policy, and introduce an inflation targeting framework. This framework prioritises price stability to achieve sustainable GDP growth. Price stability allows investors to confidently invest their money for productive activities, without worrying about it losing value. Price stability also maintains the purchasing power of consumers, i.e., the ability to purchase a good (or service) with a given amount of money.
As per the new framework, the central government, in consultation with RBI sets: (i) an inflation target, and (ii) an upper and lower tolerance level for retail inflation. The target has been set at 4%, with an upper tolerance limit of 6% and a lower tolerance limit of 2%. The upper and lower limits indicate that although it is desirable for inflation to be close to 4%, deviation between these limits is acceptable. The target and bands are revised every five years. In March 2021, the existing targets were carried forward.
Retail inflation has been above 6% for the past nine months, and it has been above 4% from October 2019 onwards (See Figure 1).
Figure 1: Consumer price index (year-on-year; in percentage)
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
If inflation is above or below the prescribed limits for three quarters, RBI must submit a report to the central government explaining why prices have been rising (or falling) persistently, what will be done to correct that, and an estimate as to when the target will be achieved.
The MPC uses tools such as interest rates to control the level of inflation in the economy. One such rate is the policy repo rate, which is the rate at which RBI lends money to banks. An increase in the policy repo rate makes borrowing money more costly, and hence is expected to control inflation by reducing the money supply. MPC increased this rate from 4% in April 2022 to 4.4% in May 2022, to 4.9% in June 2022, to 5.4% in August 2022, and to 5.9% in September 2022.
Breaking down the Consumer Price Index and the Wholesale Price Index
Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the general prices of goods and services such as food, clothing, and fuel over time. Retail inflation is calculated as the change in the CPI over a period of time. Goods and services such as petrol, food products, health, and education are considered for its calculation, which are assigned different weights (See Table 1). Between February 2022 and August 2022, the average annual inflation was 6.9%. The rise in prices of subcomponents of the CPI during this period is indicated in Table 2.
Table 1: Assigned weights for the calculation of CPI
Sources: MOSPI; PRS.
Table 2: Average inflation of some CPI components
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, RBI; PRS.
CPI is not the only index that measures inflation in an economy. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) measures the wholesale prices of goods. A change in wholesale prices reflects wholesale inflation. Table 3 indicates the weights assigned to goods for calculating the WPI. Manufactured goods include metals, chemicals, food products, and textiles.
Primary articles (23%) include food articles, and crude petroleum and natural gas. Fuel and power (12%) include mineral oils, electricity, and coal. WPI has remained above 10% from April 2021 onwards. It reached an all-time high of 17% in May 2022. This was driven by the inflation in metals, kerosene and petroleum coke, fruits and vegetables, and palm oil.
Table 3:Assigned weights for the
Sources: Ministry of Commerce and Industry; PRS.
Why has WPI inflation been consistently above CPI inflation?
Movements in the WPI have an impact on the CPI. For almost a year and half, CPI inflation has remained below WPI inflation. However, as per the design of the indices, it is expected that CPI would remain above WPI, and that any increase in WPI would reflect in the CPI after a time lag. This is because retail prices include taxes (as a percentage of price), while wholesale prices do not. Additionally, some of the goods in WPI act as inputs in the goods considered in CPI. An increase in input prices would lead to higher retail prices after a time lag.
We discuss possible reasons for why CPI has remained below WPI for a year and a half.
Figure 2: Consumer Price Index and Wholesale Price Index
Sources: Database on Indian Economy, Reserve Bank of India; PRS.
Composition of indices
As indicated in Table 2 and 3, the composition of the two indices varies. For instance, prices of manufacture of basic metals, chemicals, and machinery grew at an average rate of 13% between February 2021 and September 2022. They contribute 7% to the WPI. These are input goods for producing final goods and services such as automobiles, which are included in the CPI. The rise in prices of transport vehicles, communication devices, fuel for transport, and housing (CPI components) rose by 6% during this period.
The Ministry of Finance has observed that wholesale prices did not feed into retail prices (from March 2021 onwards) as wholesalers absorbed the rising input costs and did not pass them on to retailers. In August 2022, it noted that as retail prices are rising now, the pass-through may occur.